A film that manages to be both reserved yet personal, Youth is a realistically surreal film experience existing on its own plane thanks to the brave direction from Paolo Sorrentino. Gorgeous imagery and a restful pulse compliment the stunning, oft self-indulgent performances from an excellent cast of performers all masters at their craft.
Set in a Swiss health resort where old friends Fred (Michael Caine), a legendary (since-retired) composer, and Mick (Harvey Keitel), a filmmaker, are enjoying some much needed R&R, their days are spent looking on with a mixture of fondness and confusion at the hotel guests around them, the group of enthusiastic writers working with Mick, and the complicated lives of their respective children. Forming the heart of the story is Fred who has been personally invited by the royal family to conduct his most famous piece, “Simple Stories”, an invitation he vehemently denies.
Basing his refusal for reasons he only elaborates on as “personal”, it becomes quite evident that his late wife played a large role in his conducting career; though a heated discussion with his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz) brings to light how distant he was through her childhood and his treatment of her mother seemed stemmed from anything but love. It’s moments like these that plant Youth in an all-too relatable frame, but just as we watch in awkward silence Sorrentino manages to break the tension with understated subtlety, such as the sequence where Fred and Mick are joined by a particularly voluptuous Miss Universe in a hot spa where she commences to undress without a wink of self-consciousness; the expressions from Caine and Keitel are priceless.
The guests at the spa are who make up a great deal of Youth’s entertainment and act as an interesting breather amidst the banter between Caine and Keitel. From the Buddhist monk rumoured to be able to levitate to the elderly couple at dinner who cease to say as little as two words to each other (they’re culmination in the film is a particular surprise), Youth prides itself on honouring the abnormal; the per de resistance in this category belongs to an over-done Jane Fonda as an ageing Gloria Swanson-type actress who descends on a terrified Mick with the ferociousness of a hunting jaguar. In the briefest of appearances, Fonda’s a mix of pity, hilarity and embarrassment and the film is better for it.
Though visually and technically Youth is a marvel, it is also a difficult to film to enjoy due to its unorthodox structure but if you can persevere through its strangeness you’ll be rewarded with a rich and unusual film that prides itself on its distinctive beauty.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Youth is out on DVD and Blu-ray as of the 28th of April.